Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's going on with me...

Several people have asked about my recent surgery, and what it's all about. In lieu of repeating myself multiple times to explain my surgery and why I did it, I decided to talk about it here.

For about 7 or 8 years now, I have had chronic kidney disease. It started with a completely unrelated visit to my primary care doctor, who called me back after bloodwork to say that I had protein in my urire. "Is that bad?" I asked. He advised that I make an appointment with Dr. Kirti Shah, a nephrology specialist (kidney doctor). At that time, they said I had about 60% of normal kidney function. I started taking various medications, hoping it would just pass. After putting it off for a couple of years, I had a biopsy done about 6 years ago, The biopsy produced the diagnosis: I have something called "Gouty Nephropathy". Gout, as you may have heard, is a condition where uric acid builds up the bloodstream and crystallizes in joints, often in the toes and ankles. I have had attacks of gout from time to time, and they are PAINFUL. At its worst, I can't walk. I haven't had a gout attack for couple of years now, but it appears that the "gout of the kidney" I have is a bit more permanent. Why I got it, I don't know for sure. My best guess is that I had undiagnosed, untreated blood pressure for some unknown number of years.

Last week I had surgery to put a fistula in my left arm. A fistula is a place where the surgeon connects a vein to an artery in your arm. This causes the blood vessel to expand, which makes for an easier access point for a large bore needle such as is used for kidney dialysis. It takes 2-3 months to "mature" and be ready for use. It's best to get it done sooner than later. Otherwise, if dialysis is needed and you DON'T have it, they would have to put in an intrusive and infection-prone "central line" in a vein near your neck.

Why now? Well, it comes down to this: As of my last appointment with Dr. Shah in mid October, I am down to about 12% kidney function. As a general rule, kidney patients are put on dialysis when they get down to 10% kidney function. So, it's best to be prepared.

To be honest, I don't FEEL like I have kidney disease. I take medications and check my blood pressure regularly, but I don't have any other physically apparent symptoms. I urinate normally and regularly, and the only way you'd know I have kidney disease is to look at my lab report. I was as reluctant to get this fistula as I was to get the biopsy in the first place. It interrupts my work and life schedule. It's an ugly 2-inch set of stitches on the inside of my left arm next to my wrist, and I hate it. In a way, it represents to me a path that I don't want to go down. But I have no choice. Here it is. It's real, and it's in my face. I don't know what the near future holds. I'm starting the process of getting into a kidney transplant program. Those near me assure me of God's ability to hear miraculously, and I don't doubt it. But I will plan for the worst as I hope for the best. Any and all prayers are appreciated as I travel down what could be a fairly rocky road in the coming years.


Friday, October 2, 2009

The Best sports "Cinderella Story" EVER.

My sister-in-law Cathlyn posted this on Facebook today, and I just had to put it up here. If somebody in Hollywood doesn't make a movie about this, they're idiots. Check it out:

Monday, September 28, 2009

10 Things I Learned While On My Disney Cruise

10: Not all cruises are created alike. Disney Cruise ships are clean, bright, and fun. From the looks on the faces of people I saw coming off of those massive Carnival cruise ships (and from others on the Disney cruise with me who had done Carnival cruises before), those Carnival ships are like "Motel 6 on the ocean". Guess we picked well!

9: The waiters at dinner on our ship apparently had some sort of eerie "spidey sense". For instance, one night one of our dessert selections was a very tasty warm chocolate "lava" cake. "You had me at 'lava cake'" was the immediate response by everyone at the table but one after seeing it on the dessert menu. I remarked that what it needed to top it off was a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream. This was while not one Disney server, assistant server, or maitre'd was anywhere near us. When the lava cake appeared at our table, our server followed immediately behind it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for each. It's magic, I tell you! And it was good.

8: While visiting the ruins of an ancient Mayan settlement on the island of Cozumel, Mexico, our tour guide told us about the Mayan calendar - a complicated series of symbols on two interlocking wheels. The next time the calendar will run its course so that the last symbol of each wheel meets, and the cycle restarts, is December 21, 2012 - A date predicted by many cultures to be of Armageddon-like proportions. There's a new movie in the works that ties to this legend, and more about the idea can be found here.

7: Car dealership finance managers are not all evil. Jamie and I met Todd, who had been a finance manager at auto dealerships for quite some time, and his lovely wife Jenn at our dinner table on the first night, and hung out with them quite a bit over the course of the cruise. They were both warm, friendly, and just a wee bit crazy, so I liked them both a great deal.

6: I discovered I like French onion soup -- and I'm not such a huge fan of Tiramisu or Panna Cotta - but I tried them all.

5: The best Spaghetti Bolognese I ever had was at an Italian restaurant overlooking the sea in, of all places, Grand Cayman Island. Who knew?

4: Did you know that there is a form of tequila called "Patron XO Cafe" that when mixed with an equal amount of cream, makes what I would best describe as an "adult coffee smoothie"? It's quite nice. Thanks to Todd for that bit of info, and the shots!

3: Being a Disney employee is NOT all sunshine and butterflies. These people work HARD, work long hours, get fairly low pay, in an extremely high-pressure, highly political working environment. If you want to get ahead working for The Mouse, be prepared to do NOTHING else. (Thanks to our new friend Jenn for some "inside" information on life in the house of the Mouse).

2: Loafers, white socks pulled up to the shins, ragged polo shirt, and the SAME GREY SWEAT SHORTS EVERY DAY (that look like underwear, by the way) is apparently acceptable cruise wear for every occasion for some cruise passengers. This particular one was middle aged, 6' 5" or so, and British. For "Pirate Night" - where some folks went all-out in full pirate regalia, what did this fellow show up in? The same thing...with the addition of a leather belt with a small plastic sword shoved into it. Argh!

1: Disney puts on the most technically proficient, talent-filled, bombastic, cheesy, romantic, silly Disney-themed stage shows on their ships. Absolutely top notch performance and execution. And cheesy. And silly. ...and I am an absolute sucker for them. I swear every time I heard "Tale as old as time...song as old as rhyme....Beauty and The Beast..." I almost got misty. But you didn't hear that from me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gospel SPAM

Today I received a SPAM message to my inbox. I normally would just delete it, but I was curious when I saw its subject line: "Heaven Or Hell". The contents of the SPAM email gave several Bible verses, along with a brief description of the gospel. It also contained prominent links to this web site, which contained a more detailed Gospel presentation. I went to the web site, and found the "email" link at the bottom, and sent the following to the email address shown:

Dear Sir,

I am a Christian, and a computer user (and software developer)...

I have recently received an unsolicited email from someone leading me to your web site. Though I appreciate the thought behind it, if you ARE the person sending out random spams to lead people to your web site, you should remember:

Paul admonished us to "become all things to all people, that [we] may win some." Most people do not appreciate unsolicited email, and will at best ignore it, and at worst, will be motivated to dislike the person (and the message) being sent -- which will be counter to your specified purpose of winning people to Christ.

May I suggest that if you ARE the person sending out "gospel SPAM", that you cease that practice and perhaps follow the advice of Martin Luther: "Preach the gospel always, and, if necessary, use words.". Let your actions speak for Christ...not by shoving it down people's inboxes, but by leading them by example and showing Christ's love to them in a personal way -- by letting them know what he has done in YOUR life.

In His Love,
Rich Stephens

What do you think? I don't know how many people will read this, but if you do, point some others here and encourage them to post their opinion. I'm curious as to how people feel about this, and about my response.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Indie Gollum

"The trail was long cold when I took it up again, after Bilbo left here. And my search would have been in vain, but for the help that I had from a friend: Aragorn, the greatest traveller and huntsman of this age of the world. Together we sought for Gollum down the whole length of Wilderland, without hope, and without success. But at last, when I had given up the chase and turned to other parts, Gollum was found. My friend returned out of the great perils bringing the miserable creature with him." - The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring

There's not much more than that to go on concerning Gandalf's search for Gollum in Fellowship, but it seems a group of apparently VERY talented fans wanted to see more of the story. As told on NPR here, director Chris Bouchard and 150 volunteers have completed the 40-minute film, which will be available for viewing on the web at www.thehuntforgollum.com on Sunday, May 3rd, 2009. It was intended to be an homage to the look and feel of Peter Jackson's epic LOTR films, and from the look of the trailer (below), they've succeeded. I for one can't wait to watch it!

THE HUNT FOR GOLLUM - FULL Trailer 1 from Independent Online Cinema on Vimeo.

Monday, April 13, 2009

From The Attic To The Stage - The Tale of the Rhodes, Part III

On Easter, we celebrated the resurrection of our Saviour and Lord. The week before, I was able to celebrate an admittedly MUCH more minor resurrection, but pretty cool nonetheless. The "patient" in question sat in my sister-in-law's attic for years, in my garage for months, went to my brother's studio, to a storage room at Buckhead Church, to the apparently genius Rhodes repair guy, and finally here:

This is the stage at Connection Church, a new church starting up in Suwanee, GA that my brother Danny is putting together the music for nowadays. What you see him playing is that creaky old Fender Rhodes electric piano, repaired and sounding amazing, in all its retro-vibe-y glory. Danny tells me that among other things, the repair man had to unstick several keys, replace quite a few pickups, and generally bring it back from the dead. For your further enjoyment and education, here are a couple more pics of the Rhodes in action:

Ready and Rarin' to Go

Practice Makes Perfect

If you want to read "The Tale of the Rhodes" from the beginning, start here: Part 1, and then Part Deux.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I've driven by this house near my in-laws in Jackson County 100 times, and I've always wondered...

Why do they keep a COFFIN on their porch? Things that make you go, "hmm..."

Friday, January 16, 2009


Recently Jamie and I were having dinner at our new favorite Mexican restaurant (with the exception of El Torero, of course), Chepe's.  Suddenly, there was a clamor as a plate made its way to its eager recipient. 
What you're seeing is the famous Chepe's Monster Burrito.  I don't know how much is in that beast, but it took up ALL of a HUGE platter.  According to their menu, anyone who finishes it gets a free Chepe's t-shirt.

Looks like this little guy is not afraid of setting BIG goals for himself.

Go for it, I say.  Don't be afraid to try. You never know what you can do until you make the attempt.